What comes next for Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Lakers?

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Does Russell Westbrook want to run it back with the Lakers next season?

“Yeah, that’s the plan, but nothing is promised,” Westbrook said this week when asked if he wanted to return to the Lakers next season.

Westbrook might be the only person who thinks he will be back in Forum blue and gold next year. However, how a potential exit of Westbrook from the Lakers happens is a matter of speculation and talk around the league — there are no easy answers for Rob Pelinka here. The Lakers GM will be back but is tasked with cleaning up this mess. His seat will be warm next season if he doesn’t.

The ideal scenario would be to trade Westbrook and get players of some value back. Along those lines, Marc Stein threw out something interesting in his latest newsletter/Substack release — talk of a possible trade with Charlotte.

…one scenario making the rounds is a belief that the Hornets could emerge with Westbrook interest in the name of creating some financial flexibility.

Gordon Hayward has two seasons left on a four-year, $120 million contract and has appeared in only 49 of Charlotte’s 79 games this season. Terry Rozier has performed well this season, with an above-average PER of 17.36, but next season is Year 1 of a four-year, $97 million extension. With the Hornets facing the onrushing expense of signing Miles Bridges to a lucrative contract extension this offseason, followed by the eventual prospect of a max extension for Ball, combining one of their long-term deals with the final season on Kelly Oubre Jr.‘s two-year, $24.5 million pact, as an example, could function as a workable trade framework.

The speculation is the Hornets would be willing to trade for Westbrook (and likely buy him out) to get off longer-term money, allowing them to pay Ball and Bridges down the line. Russell Westbrook is a Jordan Brand shoe guy, and Jordan both owns the Hornets and reportedly is a Westbrook fan. The Lakers get either Hayward — who has played just over half his team’s games the past two seasons — or Rozier, who averaged 19.2 points and 4.4 assists a night, shooting 37.5% from 3, he’s been a quality scorer when healthy. He’s also got a fully guaranteed three years making more than $21 million a season after this one.

The most logical trade remains one for Houston’s John Wall, which was discussed at the trade deadline. It didn’t come together then because the Rockets demanded the Lakers’ 2027 first-round pick for a swap of bad contracts and past-their-prime players, and the Lakers wisely decided to hold on to that pick. If the Rockets lower their asking price, maybe the sides can find a deal.

The outcome I have heard the most from sources around the league involves no trade: The Lakers waive and stretch Westbrook. It still leaves about $15.7 million on the Lakers’ cap for three years, but in the short term the move takes the Lakers out of the luxury tax and gives them a little — not much, but a little — more room to maneuver and sign players. Most teams could not consider this option, that would be too big an anchor on the books, but the Lakers generate a lot of cash and can go into the tax, so it hurts them a little less.

Maybe another, unexpected trade scenario pops up. One way or another, it would be shocking to see Westbrook back with the Lakers next season. He’s become the scapegoat for problems that he contributed to but were also much bigger than just him. Lakers’ nation is ready to move on.

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.

Watch Lakers fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

Three things to know: Joel Embiid returns, scores final 11 vs. Hawks

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Joel Embiid returns, scores final 11 vs. Hawks in 76ers win

The 76ers went 3-1 with Joel Embiid sidelined by a left mid-foot sprain, but they are so much more a dangerous team with him.

Embiid scored the 76ers’ final 11 points of the game against the Hawks, including the go-ahead 10-foot jumper with 18.6 seconds left, to cap a 30-point night and lift the Sixers past the Hawks 104-101.

Embiid was making critical defensive plays down the stretch as well.

Embiid finished with 30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocks. That’s five straight 30+ point games for Embiid, who picked up right where he left off before the injury.

Well, not exactly pick up at the start as Embiid was 1-of-7 shooting to open the game, and he wasn’t the only Sixers rusty at the start. Embiid seemed focused on sharing the ball early but settled into an offensive balance as the game went on. Philly was saved by a solid defensive night.

The 76ers continue to pick up wins with James Harden and Tyrese Maxey out, which is a good sign going forward.

That’s three-straight losses for the Hawks, a loss that stings because they should have been able to dominate the shorthanded 76ers backcourt and get the win.

2) Karl-Anthony Towns goes down with concerning leg injury

Let’s hope the optimistic report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is right and this isn’t as severe as it looked. Because it looked bad.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony simply was pushing off to run back upcourt when he fell to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf.

Towns was helped back to the locker room and did not return, with the Timberwolves officially saying he was out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A calf strain would be the best possible outcome. An MRI Monday will tell us more.

Towns’ stats are down this season as he adjusts to the odd fit of playing next to Rudy Gobert, but he is still averaging 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game.

The Wizards got a monster night from Kristaps Porzingis — a career-high 41 points — on their way to a 142-127 victory. When Porzingis is on this Washington team is tough to beat.

3) Big shots fall at Lakers’ game

Two big shots defined the night at the crypto.com arena Monday.

First, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 with a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

The second one hurt the Lakers more. Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

The Lakers got lost in the scramble. On the initial action, Russell Westbrook doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner, which left the screen setter Myles Turner open at the top for a clean look at a 3 — but he was short and came off the front of the rim. Tyrese Haliburton out-hustled everyone to the rebound and tried to create his own shot but saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West.

The Lakers had won 5-of-6 against a soft part of the schedule but that is about to change and over the next few weeks we will get a sense of where this 7-12 team really stands.